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Children who learn to play a musical instrument more likely to go to college

Survey finds people feel it heightens mental focus and enhances creativity

April 7, 2011

By Derek Abma, from the Vancouver Sun

If you learned to play a musical instrument as a child, there’s a better chance you went to college or university, according to results of a new survey.
 
A poll conducted by Leger Marketing showed that 69 per cent of Canadians who learned to play an instrument attended a post-secondary school, compared to 59 per cent who didn’t learn to play.
Overall, 66 per cent of those polled said they had learned to play an instrument in their childhood, and about one in six said they continue to play an instrument at least once a week as adults.
“Learning to play an instrument is a huge part of many Canadians’ lives and has significant impact years later,” said Janet Gillespie, marketing vice-president for satellite radio company XM Canada, which sponsored the survey.
Some of the benefits people reported as stemming from learning to play an instrument included heightened mental focus, enhanced creativity, improved confidence and ability to self-teach.
Sixty-six per cent said learning an instrument is as important as mastering a second language, and 77 per cent rated it as just as beneficial for children as involvement in sports.
The most common instruments learned by survey respondents were the piano (cited by 31 per cent of those that had learned an instrument), flute (18 per cent) and guitar (15 percent).
Caroline Palmer, a psychology professor at McGill University in Montreal, said research has shown that learning to play an instrument can have “small but significant long-term effects...on the development of spatial and fine motor skills in other domains.”
On the finding that those who learn instruments are more likely to attend a post-secondary institution, Palmer said socioeconomic factors could be behind that correlation since families that can afford instruments are more likely to have money for their children’s education. 
Ellen Winner, a psychology professor at Boston College, said there is little in the way of scientific evidence to show that learning to play an instrument helps one succeed in other areas of life.
She said research has shown higher IQ levels among those who get formal music training, but it’s unknown whether such an effect would remain true for self-taught musicians who don’t read music.
“There may well be benefits [from learning to pay a musical instrument],” she said. “It’s just that it’s hard to prove it.”
The survey results came from online questionnaires conducted of 1,549 Canadian adults between March 7 and 10. Those behind the survey said such a sample size should produce results representative of the Canadian population within 2.49 percentage points, 19 out of 20.
 
 
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